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Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University of Wellington. Vol. 24, No. 5. 1961

Nuclear Tactics

Nuclear Tactics

The policy of the several regional movements is given as follows:

"That New Zealand should not take part in nuclear weapon tests.

"That New Zealand should continue to demand the immediate cessation of nuclear testing, and the outlawing of further testing by any country.

"That New Zealand, independently of what is done by other countries, should state in the United Nations that it will not acquire or use nuclear weapons and has no desire to be defended by those of any other nation.

"As members of the British Commonwealth, to support the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, in calling on the British Government to renounce the testing, manufacture and use of nuclear arms, and to do so independently as a lead to negotiations and not as a condition of them."

This policy is presumably based on both practical and ethical grounds. Let us now examine the former.

The British Prime Minister, Mr Macmillan was quoted "There can never be a nuclear war which will not practically destroy civilisation." This implies that any use of nuclear weapons will inevitably start a chain reaction in which each side in turn retaliates with more and bigger weapons until nothing is left—a process termed "escalation." Therefore, it is argued, not even the smallest tactical weapons should be used. This would be true if the nuclear Powers believed in the inevitability of "escalation" as Mr Macmillan allegedly once did, but if this were so they would use immediately their most fearsome weapons rather than wait for the cataclysmic process to work itself out. "Blessed is he who has his quarrel just, but thrice armed is he who gets his blow in first." There would be no need for the tactical nuclear weapons. And yet every nuclear Power has been striving to develop and mass-produce these very devices, tactical nuclear weapons, as a matter of the first importance! Soviet tactical missiles with nuclear warheads were revealed as long ago as May 1, 1957, and for some time every U.S. Army division has had a "nuclear capability."

What, then, would be the reaction on the "other side" to the use of tactical nuclear weapons?

All the Nuclear Powers see Clearly the Futility of Retaliation in Kind for its Own Sake—demonstrated by Hitler When he Switched his Luftwaffe from Attacks on R.A.F. Airfields to the Reprisal Bombing of London and so Lost the Battle of Britain—and the Logic of Using the Weapons Only when the Enemy'S Forces Present a Suitable Target, as when Concentrating for an Attack.

The threat of nuclear retaliation in kind is however always present, and since 1949 has served to keep "limited" wars limited.

Could then the nuclear Powers agree each to concede the first nuclear blow in a future conflict, using only their "conventional" arms? To do so would give an enormous advantage to the side which cheats. The temptation for each side to "get his blow in first" could be overpowering. Better by far to await only a suitable target, which a skilful enemy would take pains never to present. And which country could watch its essential shipping flayed by "conventional" submarines and not use the most effective countermeasures — nuclear depth charges?